Going Green: IR focuses on renewables and energy efficiency

IR focuses on renewables and energy efficiency

Accounting for almost a quarter of the ordinary working expenses of the Indian Railways (IR), energy has emerged as one of its key focus areas. In recent years, the carrier has managed to control its energy spends that stood at Rs 290.22 billion in 2014-15, then declined substantially to Rs 273.31 billion in 2015-16, after which it increased to

Rs 282.53 billion in 2016-17 and Rs 294.78 billion in 2017-18. This has been achieved despite the growing traffic, and can be attributed mainly to focused initiatives such as increased electrification, use of open access, etc. Besides, renewable sources of energy are also being developed in a resolute manner. By 2020, IR aims for 10 per cent of its total power needs to be met from renewable sources. Further, a plan is under way for setting up 1,000 MW of solar plants and 200 MW of wind plants, of which an operational capacity of 50.5 MW of solar power and 36.5 MW of wind power has already been achieved.

Energy trends

IR’s energy bills mainly account for expenditure on electricity, currently accounting for a 35 per cent share, and expenditure on diesel, which accounts for the remaining 65 per cent.

Electricity consumption and expenditure: Over the five financial years 2012-13 to 2016-17, traction energy consumption grew from 14.58 billion kWh in 2012-13 to 15.67 billion kWh in 2016-17, vis-à-vis the consumption of non-traction energy that reduced from 2.48 billion kWh in 2012-13 to 2.39 billion kWh in 2016-17. A key reason for this has been IR’s consistent efforts towards making its operations more energy efficient. An important milestone in this regard has been the conversion of all IR’s stations to being 100 per cent LED lit as of March 2018. In 2016-17, IR’s total electricity bill stood at Rs 112.62 billion, of which Rs 94.75 billion was towards traction costs and Rs 17.87 billion was towards non-traction costs.

Diesel consumption and expenditure: IR consumes about 3.5 per cent of the country’s total diesel output. During the period 2012-13 to 2016-17, diesel consumption followed an upward trend till 2015-16, after which it declined to reach 2.79 million kilolitres in 2016-17. Expenditure on diesel, on the contrary, exhibited a mixed trend, though growing overall at a compound annual growth rate of 6.07 per cent. In 2016-17, the total spending on diesel for traction stood at Rs 170.06 billion.

IR’s strategy and initiatives

To improve energy strategies and initiatives for traction, IR’s Energy Plan, 2015, facilitated the direct procurement of power, assigned it deemed licensee status and instituted Railway Energy Management Company Limited (REMCL) to manage the energy needs of the carrier. IR has further partnered with the Ministry of Power, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United States Agency for International Development to develop its energy plans. It is now also becoming a part of the Perform Achieve and Trade scheme to bring in additional efficiencies in energy consumption.

On the operations front, a number of solutions such as ramping up the production of three-phase locomotives with regenerative features and head-on generation trains are being considered. Further, measures such as shutting down locomotives and electrical multiple units while idling, monitoring of regeneration and battery-cum-electric locomotives are also being undertaken.

Going forward, IR plans to convert all its surplus diesel engines to electric ones to reduce its dependency on diesel, as diesel engines cost almost double to run vis-à-vis electric ones. The first such engine was operationalised on February 28, 2018. It was a 2,800 HP diesel engine converted to a 5,000 HP electric engine in a period of just 68 days. Further, on April 10, 2018, IR flagged off India’s first 12,000 HP high speed electric locomotive from the Madhepur loco factory in Bihar. Prior to this, IR’s most powerful engine was of 6,000 HP.

Regarding non-traction energy, IR’s strategy involves undertaking regular energy audits and making its buildings more energy efficient (by almost 40 per cent) as per Energy Conservation Building Code guidelines. Further, the judicious use of energy, the use of only star-rated equipment, undertaking energy efficient pumping installations, etc., are also a part of its non-traction strategy.

Progress and achievements

Under Mission 41K, aimed at saving a corpus of Rs 410 billion in electric traction costs by 2025, IR succeeded in achieving cumulative savings of Rs 64.27 billion between April 2015 and January 2018. This figure is expected to go up further to Rs 69.27 billion for the April 2015-March 2018 period, which is Rs 10 billion above the stipulated target. Further, to reduce its fuel expenditure, IR has prepared an action plan to electrify (commission on electric traction) 38,000 route km in five years (2017-18 to 2021-22) for achieving 100 per cent electrification on all broad gauge routes. In 2016-17, efforts by Western Railway in improving energy efficiency translated into a saving of 10 per cent, while on an overall basis, across all zonal railways, efforts towards improving energy efficiency have translated to a 5 per cent reduction in non-traction energy consumption.

Besides, another measure adopted by IR for reducing its outlay on energy has been the direct purchase of power in the open market through purchasing power agreements (PPAs). So far, over 1,275 MW of power is drawn via this route, with proposals on the anvil for another 1,000 MW. The current annual savings estimated through this step stand at Rs 23.25 billion, and are likely to reach Rs 40 billion by 2018-19.

Further, IR plans to expand its own transmission network of 600 km (Dadri-Kanpur [400 km] and Kanpur-Allahabad [200 km]) to a network length of 20,000 km, of which about 9,150 km will span the Golden Quadrilateral (8,850 km) and dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) (300 km).

Meanwhile, IR has also set up new captive power plants. Bhartiya Rail Bijlee Company Limited’s (a joint venture [JV] between IR and NTPC) has set up a captive power plant in Bihar with a total installed capacity of 1,000 MW. REMCL has tied up 755 MW from this facility by way of a PPA. The power tariff is set at Rs 4.40 per unit, and is expected to derive annual savings of around Rs 2 billion. Further, IR and NTPC in a JV are also setting up a coal-based captive power plant at Adra, West Bengal. The plant will have a total installed capacity of 1,320 MW and is expected to derive annual savings of Rs 6 billion. Another gas-based captive power plant has been planned at Thakurli in Maharashtra with estimated savings of Rs 2 billion per annum.

IR is also adopting the use of insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) systems with a regenerating braking feature for energy conservation. So far, more than 1,000 electric locomotives equipped with three-phase IGBT-type propulsion systems and regenerative braking have been introduced. Besides, 200 electric multiple unit rakes with three-phase IGBT-based propulsion systems and regenerative braking have been introduced in Mumbai.

Focus on green energy

Not only is IR cutting down on energy use and expenditure, it also aims to adopt renewable energy in a big way, with its expected contribution to the energy mix targeted to reach 25 per cent by 2025. Of the 1,200 MW of renewable target set by IR, an operational capacity of 50.5 MW of solar power and 36.5 MW of wind power has already been achieved as of March 2018.

Further, the UNDP is working with IR in meeting a target of 5 GW of solar power by 2025. Under Phase I of the project, solar power potential has been assessed in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The project entails the installation of solar power on platform sheds at over 8,500 stations and buildings (rooftop), apart from ground-mounted projects. Ground-mounted/Land-based projects will be spread across over 65,000 km of track-side land, in addition to a land bank of 44,000 hectares.

Some of the key developments during 2017 were the signing of large contracts including the one with the ABB Group, which will supply solar inverters to Azure Power for its solar power projects spanning 750 railway stations in northern India. IR is further planning to work with the Madhya Pradesh government to set up a Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Park-type solar power plant of 800 MW in Shajapur district. The carrier mainly aims to replicate the success of the Rewa Solar Park, where the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has already booked power through PPA contracts with the developer. IR has also mooted a proposal to set up a 50 MW solar power plant in Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), where it has spare land, through REMCL at an estimated cost of Rs 1 billion.

The way forward

Going forward, the progressive and rapid electrification of railway tracks is expected to raise the energy requirement of IR by 5-6 per cent, with around 200-400 MW of additional power required over the next three years. Further, around 200 MW of power has been estimated by 2020 for the DFCs. While, IR is looking to incorporate renewables into its energy mix, significant focus will also need to be laid on increasing energy efficient rolling stock, and pushing ongoing programmes such as Mission Electrification which is currently behind target, achieving progress of only 10-15 km per day. At this rate, it will take at least 10 years for the carrier to meet its 100 per cent electrification target instead of the planned four-five years. Therefore, mechanised operations will be imperative to increase the pace of implementation of the programme, along with greater participation from the industry.